Last week we had a brief discussion on affliction and the following paragraph perhaps did not reflect the full context of the message:
As God, then, chastises a saint, he will search his conscience, and the word of God, to determine the cause of his affliction and he will not rest until he finds the source of his dilemma. And when he finds it, he will be saddened that he grieved the Holy Spirit with his sin, and repent, giving thanks to God having saved him from his evil paths.
It was not the intention to allude to a connection between affliction and sin per se because God may choose to afflict someone who has not specifically sinned, but it may be to teach others through the sufferer. The reason why God would afflict saints in various ways is not always revealed to us and here the lifelong sufferings of the blind man is an example:
John 9:1 - 3 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? 3"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life."
Before it was revealed even he did not know why God afflicted him. For him to have searched his conscience to determine the cause of his affliction would have been futile, but only as far as the outcome was concerned. Searching one's conscience, and the Scriptures, in an effort to reform all the more and become more like Christ, is always a virtuous exercise. And affliction, endured with thanksgiving, is the fuel that drives reformation, causing prayer, humbleness, searching for more knowledge, and more godly living.
Removal of the affliction may not be connected to one's changed lifestyle, and one should not seek such a correlation because, first, we do not know why God chose to afflict one in a particular way, and second, it is a sin to barter with God and imagine that one can trade good works for his favor. It is easy to stumble over the general correlation that exists between sin and affliction, but for the elect this correlation doesn't exist because they are not afflicted to exact satisfaction for sins, but are disciplined lovingly by the Father.
When we are called to endure our afflictions patiently, we are not asked to resign ourselves to the state of affliction, but to endure it. Enduring something means to carry on through despite hardships, to bear with tolerance, to suffer patiently without yielding. There is no inference that it means resignation or surrender. It is rather a battle and we are the warriors, combating evil and sin, both in the world and in ourselves.
So, when I wrote that the saint "…will search his conscience, and the word of God, to determine the cause of his affliction and he will not rest until he finds the source of his dilemma…" I was referring to a warrior; one set on being a conqueror. The elect are of that kind of people who would not rest in resignation, which some unfortunately believe is patience, until they have doused the flames of their old nature, seeking - instead of resisting - the Holy Spirit, proactively increasing - instead of waiting like a beggar for - the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Regardless of the amount of searching, the saint would ordinarily not find the specific source of his dilemma, but he would find it generally, namely, his old nature, the henchman of Satan. If we, then, harbor a disciple of Satan within ourselves, whom we have to continually combat, suppress, and starve, how can we be patient, if patience is understood as passive martyrdom? No, there is no such thing as passive martyrdom; there may only be the warrior-martyr who fights to the end, enduring patiently - imitating the Lord.
Exodus 15:3 The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is his name.
Our old nature will try to pull us down and resist our attempts to mortify it, but we must overcome it and persevere in the liberation that Christ's sacrifice on the cross brought for us. We are not subject to the old nature's power, but it still is a formidable force within us, knowing us intimately well, knowing exactly what, where and how to derail our pursuit to overcome it. Even if there are no outwardly visible afflictions that should cause the warrior to rise up and fight, there should never peace within us, unless that peace is founded on the liberation that Christ wrought within us.
So, we should set the peace we have in Christ and the living according to the Spirit apart from the old nature and the death that it brings. Once they are apart, and we are able to recognize these two laws within us, can we properly identify that which is according to the Spirit and that which is according to the devil, so that we can combat the old, sinful nature from our position of strength in Christ.
See how the apostle Paul rationalized and identified these two natures, setting the apart and preparing for the war that will be fought until his death.
Romans 7:15 - 25 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me, 22for in my inner being I delight in God's law. 23But I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
The apostle Paul (II Corinthians 12:8) also pleaded with God to take away the thorn in his flesh that "tormented" him. Only after he petitioned God three times did he get an answer: It will remain to keep him humble. We may also get an answer and, then again, we may not, depending on what's best for us. But we may never stop petitioning God, seeking greater knowledge, and above all, seek the presence of the Holy Spirit.
It is a sin to surrender to one's afflicted state; it is one's duty to warrior in suffering towards obedience, holiness and righteousness in Christ. See how the following passages illustrate the battle in times of affliction:
II Samuel 12:16 David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted and went into his house and spent the nights lying on the ground.
Psalm 77:2 - 11 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. 3I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint. 4You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak. 5I thought about the former days, the years of long ago. 6I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired, 7"Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? 8Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? 9Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?" 10Then I thought, "To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High." 11I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
Matthew 26:39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.
Matthew 26:40 - 42 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?" he asked Peter. 41"Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." 42He went away a second time and prayed, "My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."
Hebrews 5:7 - 9 During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
When Christ says that he would be coming soon, it alludes to the final times in which we live and to comfort those who are waiting on him. God used this phrase throughout Scripture to comfort his people in suffering.
Zephaniah 1:14 "The great day of the LORD is near--near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the LORD will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there
Isaiah 13:6 Wail, for the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty.
Ezekiel 30:3 For the day is near, the day of the LORD is near--a day of clouds, a time of doom for the nations.
Joel 1:15 Alas for that day! For the day of the LORD is near; it will come like destruction from the Almighty.
Joel 3:14 Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.
Obadiah 1:15 "The day of the LORD is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head."
Zephaniah 1:7, 14 Be silent before the Sovereign LORD, for the day of the LORD is near. The LORD has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited. 14"The great day of the LORD is near--near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the LORD will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there."
Philippians 4:5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near!
James 5:8 You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near. 9Don't grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door.
As the Old Testament declarations, that the day of the Lord is near, point to the end times as a precursor, and also to His providential interventions from time to time, so the New Testament declares the same thing but pointing to the final return of the Messiah on the clouds.
We should, therefore, not attach another meaning to these words than the promise of comfort that it holds for the believer and horror of the threat of judgment for the unbeliever.
Here Jesus commands them to continue to hold on to what they have, which is, perseverance and endurance with patience, as warriors. Warriors, because, if they do not prevail, someone will take their crown, indicating defeat and violence as they will, then, have lost the fight.
I Timothy 1:18, 19 Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, 19holding on to faith and a good conscience. Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith.
Isaiah 62:3 You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD'S hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
I Corinthians 9:25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
I Thessalonians 2:19 For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you?
II Timothy 4:8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
James 1:12 Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
I Peter 5:4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
The crown that Jesus refers to here is the victory crown that the congregation will wear as a result of their steadfastness and loyalty. They will have the shield of righteousness that protects them from God's wrath.
These words echo the concepts of patient endurance, perseverance, and steadfastness: the result of hardship endured as a good soldier of Christ Jesus (II Timothy 2:3) who endures and reign with Christ (v12).
I John 2:14 I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
I John 5:5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
Revelation 2:7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
There are several images of pillars in Scripture that illustrate the value of a pillar in the structure of a building. There are also images of people being considered as pillars, indicating the responsibility and strength that they bear in the service of God.
Jeremiah 1:18 Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land--against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land.
Galatians 2:9 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me…
Even the church is considered the pillar and foundation of the truth.
I Timothy 3:15 If I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
So, to be called a pillar in the service of God is a high honor and an enduring virtue. Here Jesus promises to change those to a pillar in the temple of God who overcomes, which reflects the crown that they will receive.
Judges 16:26, 30 Samson said to the servant who held his hand, "Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them." 30Samson said, "Let me die with the Philistines!" Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived.
This reflects the importance of the pillars of the temple and when Samson removed these pillars, the temple came crashing down. This lesson illustrates also the importance of the pillars of the temple of God and the responsibility that each one who is given this glorious task has to bear.
Job 9:6 He shakes the earth from its place and makes its pillars tremble.
Psalm 75:3 When the earth and all its people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm.
Pillars also served as a decoration in the temple.
I Kings 7:15 He cast two bronze pillars, each eighteen cubits high and twelve cubits around, by line. 16He also made two capitals of cast bronze to set on the tops of the pillars; each capital was five cubits high. 17A network of interwoven chains festooned the capitals on top of the pillars, seven for each capital. 18He made pomegranates in two rows encircling each network to decorate the capitals on top of the pillars. He did the same for each capital. 19The capitals on top of the pillars in the portico were in the shape of lilies, four cubits high.
The pillar serves as a symbol of steadfastness, honor, and assurance to those who see them, that the temple rests on a sure footing. The congregation that gains the honor of becoming a pillar is sure of being in the presence of God, in his temple as we see Jesus reveal it to John.
These words give us the assurance that the future temple will remain forever and that those who are in it will remain in it forever.
According to ancient tradition titles of honor were engraved on temple pillars and in this case God reveals that he will write three things on the pillar, namely, first to whom the church belongs "I will write on him the name…" which states the Name of their owner: God Almighty; and that they are in His presence. secondly, the name of the city of my God, which is where the church would be forever, which is the heavenly Jerusalem, called "the new Jerusalem." It is called "new" to put it in contrast to the old Jerusalem because the new Jerusalem is in essence, nature, and existence completely different from the old Jerusalem. The new Jerusalem is the city that descends from heaven, the heavenly kingdom, to which believers already have citizenship in this life, expecting to live in the new Jerusalem forever with Jesus in our new heavenly bodies.
Isaiah 26:1 - 4 In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: We have a strong city; God makes salvation its walls and ramparts. 2Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps faith. 3You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. 4Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.
Isaiah 65:17 "Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind."
John 5:28, 29 "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29and come out--those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.
I Corinthians 15:54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."
Philippians 3:20, 21 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Colossians 3:4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
I John 3:2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
Hebrews 11:10, 16 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 16… they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
Hebrews 12:22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly.
Hebrews 13:14 For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
Thirdly, "I will write on him my new name" refers to the name that the glorified Jesus will be given after his mediation work has been completed.
Genesis 32:29 Jacob said, "Please tell me your name." But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then he blessed him there.
Exodus 23:21 Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him.
Judges 13:18 He replied, "Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding."
Matthew 11:27 "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
John 17:11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name--the name you gave me--so that they may be one as we are one.
Philippians 2:9 - 11 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Revelation 19:12, 16 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 16On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.
Again, the admonition to have open ears and hearts and listen to the words of the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures.
Laodicea receives strong rebuke from Jesus. Loadicia was the most prominent of the three greats of the time, the other two being, Colosse and Hierapolis. It was a major center of trade and transportation, located at a crossroads on the road that reached from Mesopotamia across Asia Minor to the Aegean Sea. It had a vibrant economy and a medical college.
At about 60 AD the city was damaged by the same earthquake that damaged Philadelphia but unlike the latter, Laodicea declined any assistance from the emporer and rebuilt the city on their own.
Laodicea was a prominent center if banking and commerce, and after the earthquake some of its wealthy citizens funded the construction or reconstruction of such public structures as a stadium, a gymnasium, heated and covered walkways and baths, and massive new city gates and towers. Laodicea was also known for textile production, especially black woolen products.
Among its cultural assets was a medical school founded by Zeuxis, a disciple of Heophilus of Chalcedon, a leading dogmatic physician of the third century BC, who was know to have written on ophthalmology. Ancient sources mention a Phrygian powder that was used to make eye salve, and the medical school at Laodicea was probably involved in developing this and other pharmaceuticals. With is banks, its medical center, and its textile industry, Laodicea hardly seemed to be "poor and blind and naked" as described in Revelation 3:17.
Laodicea's location in the Lycus River basin was strategic for trade and transportation but far from ideal from the standpoint of a city's need for usable water. Hierapolis, on a plateau some six miles north, had hot springs known for their medicinal value. Colosse, ten miles to the east, received cool, pure drinking water from a nearby mountain stream. Laodicea had neither. The water of the Lycus River was and is "turbid with white mud" and "nauseous and undrinkable." Remains of an aqueduct suggest that water may have been channeled from hot springs five miles south of the city. For a city so affluent in financial resources and self-sufficient in civic spirit, Laodicea ironically lacked a basic resource, water to drink.
The city's self-sufficient affluence was mirrored in the church, which Jesus rebukes for its boast, "I am rich and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and for its blindness to its destitution. (Revelation 3:17). This is the only church about which Jesus has nothing good to say. Even Sardis had a few undefiled Christians, but to this church Jesus must express his in unmitigated reproof and discipline.
Here Jesus identifies himself again in another way. To call himself the "Amen" is to equate himself to God, and this is one of the proof texts that proves Jesus to be the Second Person of the Trinity, equal and consubstantial with the Father. Jesus calls himself by this name because everything that God spoke through Him is true. Jesus is the ultimate and faithful, true witness; completely one with the Father.
John 5:19 Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does."
II Corinthians 1:20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God.
Jesus is the faithful ruler of God's creation.
Luke 10:22 "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him."
Colossians 1:15 - 19 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him.
This passage brings the creation in context with Jesus, as the Word of God that created everything. Again, Jesus is one with the Father, through whom and by whom everything was created.
It is, therefore, also no accident that Jesus calls himself by three names, namely, the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, and the Ruler of God's creation.
Jesus' reproof here strikes at their heart, because they believe that they are very successful and in terms of a "hot" or "cold" comparison, they imagined themselves very "hot" and vibrant. But Christ exposes them as neither. They lacked the zeal for the truth.
If they had been cold, there could have been hope of repentance. If they had been hot, there wouldn't have been a problem. But now that they are neither, they are able to practice their faith with hypocrisy, shielding themselves from the reproofs of the Word of God.
There is no mention of any coercion or seduction from pagan idolatry, imperial cult, or synagogue. There is no apparent theological threat from within. But they boast about their wealth indicating how far down the road of materialism and self-satisfaction they were with their situation; truly seduced by the harlot of Babylon, who enriches the earth's merchants with her immoral wealth and boasts, "I sit as queen; I am not a widow, and I will never mourn." (18:7).
Their knowledge of Scripture and the profession of their faith is not a pleasing aroma before the throne of God, but instead, like their drinking water, it is repugnant, just as repugnant as Jesus finds their testimonies and professions when they are buried under layers of hypocrisy and deceit. They must truly have imagined that their wealth would insulate them from need; confusing material wealth with spiritual wealth.
The "Amen" and faithful witness, Jesus Christ, had to tell them the hard facts, stating without mincing with words, that they are blinded by smug self-deception. Paul's letter to Colossians, which was indirectly also intended for Laodicea, called Christ the "beginning," the originator and ruler over all creatures great and small. Loadicea must, therefore, know that they should not take Jesus' rebuke lightly because it is from the Almighty Himself. There is no appeal to Jesus' judgment upon them. They have to realize their destitution before their repentance can take hold. Then they must flee to Jesus' arms knowing that He is totally sufficient to rescue them from this road to great disaster upon which they embarked.
To be lukewarm in faith is to know the gospel, but without fire, blunted and emotionless for the gospel. It is used as a convenience and shield against reproof. Instead of moving them, they have bankrupted their faith, using their hypocrisy as a vanity mirror, holding it over those things that might accuse their consciences into repentance; only able to see themselves in their pride.
Hebrews 4:2 For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith.
Hebrews 6:4 - 6 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit. 5Who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age. 6If they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.
When Jesus says that he will spit them out of his mouth, we must see the richness of this judgment, where the mouth is identified as the way through which we celebrate the sacrament, receive our faith through the preaching of the gospel, and so on. We are in Christ, members of his body, and spitting someone else out of his mouth indicates that final removal from the body, separating someone from the Head. Jesus also declares with this image his total disgust with them and the way in which one spits something from one's mouth indicates Jesus' extreme dislike in them.
This is what they rely on for their boastful life. They claim that their wealth is the cause of their freedom from need. Firstly, they are totally wrong, because wealth creates new need and substitutes one type of need for another. Secondly, they are blinded by their pride and cannot see that they are the most pitiful of all, ready to be separated from Christ.
Here Jesus paints the real picture as seen from the Amen, the faithful Witness, unambiguous and true. Jesus uses language that they understand, expressed in terms of material wealth, only the lack thereof.
One cannot help but recall David's attitude just before the prophet Nathan revealed to him 'you're the man' and David saw in how wretched a state he actually was. (II Samuel 12:7). This church was in that state of oblivion when Jesus wrote this letter to them, not realizing their poverty, blindness and nakedness.
Jesus is fully acquainted with poverty because, though he was rich, he became poor for our sakes so that through his poverty we might become rich. For the church in Laodicea, therefore, to act spiritually rich while they are actually pitifully poor is repugnant before Him.
 Reworked from Triumph of the Lamb by Dennis E. Johnson.